Alumni Profile - Jane Koval and Mary Ann Roberton
Jane Koval (BS 1980) has come a long way since she was a cheerleader at UW, where she met and married “Bucky.”
The men’s and women’s physical education departments were still separate during her freshman year, many schoolchildren had athletic coaches as gym teachers, and elimination games were the norm in physical education curricula.
But in the Department of Physical Education and Dance (now split into the departments of Kinesiology and Dance), exercise and movement scientists were setting the stage for what would make Koval into one of a new breed of physical educators.
One of those scientists, Mary Ann Roberton (PhD 1975), specialized in elementary physical education with a focus on motor development.
As early as her undergrad days, Roberton recognized that in order to help children succeed in physical activities, teachers must understand the biomechanics of movement and how it applies to children’s motor development.
“That was a no-brainer,” she said.
Roberton taught students in her methods class what to look for both in the components of a physical activity, and how they change in the course of a child’s motor development.
“There is an orderly progression from where they start moving to where they end,” she said. “Because it’s movement, teachers can see these things… if they know the sequence (of changes), they can nudge them along the sequence.”
Roberton also believed that teaching can be more effective outside of the “show and tell” method. Eliciting movement without demonstrating or describing it explicitly gives children valuable empirical knowledge.
“If you’re teaching them how to leap, you can tell them to run, get over the object, and keep going,” she said, explaining that children will often get the action when they discover it on their own. Teachers can then help them to be more competent in the activity.
“Mary Ann Roberton was one of the biggest influences on what I do today… she gave me a strong background in motor development,” Koval said.
While in school, Koval and her peers took field trips to observe children in PE classes, with an eye toward their movements and motor skills.
“Getting to see what happens in the gym helps connect what we learned in the classroom… it made it real,” she said.
In addition to developing age- and skill-appropriate activities that give each child the chance to excel, Koval also teaches with a mind-body-spirit philosophy.
“The PE curriculum (now) puts more emphasis on skills that can extend to other aspects of their lives,” she said. “One of the most important things they learn in school is how to get along with other people.”
For example, Koval teaches children how to give constructive feedback.
“Kids aren’t born knowing how to give feedback to one another,” she said. “We need to teach them how to do that.”
Teachers must provide children with the words and cues for what to look at, create a supportive and comfortable environment that makes giving feedback a positive exercise, and praise them when they offer good feedback, she said.
“They catch on real fast – not just saying ‘good job,’ but words that are helpful words,” Koval said. “It is a talent, and one of the biggest things to work on with student teachers as well.”
Below left, Koval leads a group of students and parents in a walk-to-school family fitness event.